Denver – Chris Paul couldn’t remember. Devin Booker couldn’t be stopped.
The Phoenix Suns advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 11 years on Sunday night, completing a four-game sweep with a Test victory over Denver, 125-118.
nuggets of gold? Well, they got down fighting.
Paul scored 37 points and Booker added 34 in a physical game made by ejection for a clear foul in the third quarter by MVP Nikola Jokic.
Jokic was thrown in third with 3:52 and his Nuggets trailing 83-76 when his right-hand windmill sent the ball flying but also caught Cameron Payne in the face.
Jokic said that he only meant to make a hard foul on Payne to wake up his team.
“I wanted to change the rhythm of the game, I wanted to give us some energy,” Jokic said. “I tried a hard foul. Did I hit him? I didn’t know. I apologize if I did because I didn’t want to hurt him or intentionally hit him in the head.”
Booker rages at the hard foul and gets in the face of the big man before teammates and coaches all tear him apart.
“It was just an emotional drama,” Booker said. “I don’t think he was harmed by it. It was just a desperation foul. It was tough, just defending his partner. That was it.
“I saw him approach the cam and apologize. I’ve played against the Joker many times. I know he’s not a malicious player.”
Officials assessed dual technicalities on Jokic and Booker and, after a review, dropped MVP after upgrading to Flagrant 2. Jokic finished in 28 minutes with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he witnessed the play while officials reviewed the call “and I just assumed it was going to be 1st worst.”
“I didn’t feel like it needed a flagrant 2 ejection because he’s playing the ball,” Malone said. “I believe Cameron Payne has slight nose contact. So, I was shocked. I’m still a little surprised that he called out Flagrant 2 and called out MVP on this kind of play.”
Sons coach Monty Williams was also surprised.
“I didn’t really think it was anything malicious,” Williams said. “In those moments you have to control your emotions. That’s what we’ve been talking about for the whole season.”
Crew chief David Guthrie explained, “In reviewing the replays, we saw through air, impact and follow, causing unnecessary and excessive contact over the shoulders and in the face.”
With their franchise-record seventh consecutive playoff win, they advanced to the Conference Championship for the first time since 2010 – the last time they had even reached the playoffs.
The Sons quickly dispatched Denver after defeating LeBron James and the defending champion Lakers in Round 1, making Jokic the first MVP to feature in a playoff series since Magic Johnson in 1989.
Will Barton led Denver, who went down 13 in the fourth quarter with 25 points, Michael Porter Jr adding 20 and Monte Morris adding 19.
The Nuggets survived a loss on April 12 to star Jamal Murray’s torn ACL, winning 13 of 18 to close out the regular season and taking care of Portland in five games in the opening round.
They went further than any semifinalist last year, but they missed out on Murray against the Loaded Sons.
“Hopefully we can start next season in a fresh and healthy way to make another run at this thing,” Malone said.
Every time the Nuggets scored a run, Paul was there to stop him. His 37-point outburst was one more than his age and his best production in three years.
Morris said, ‘It was a great series for him. “Salute to Chris Paul. He played amazingly.”
“He always had an answer for everything we did,” said Fascundo Compazzo.
Booker credits Paul and his experienced leadership with transforming the Sons from a team that bubbled up last year into championship contenders this summer.
“You can ask anyone on this team how Chris has developed your game and everyone will have a long answer because he cares,” Booker said.
Thanks in large part to Paul, Jokic became the first MVP to flow into a playoff series, as the Pistons defeated Magic Johnson and the Lakers in four in the 1989 NBA Finals.
Jokic’s rejection came 48 hours after an emotional celebration before Game 3 in which the Serbian dedicated his MVP trophy to his teammates, coaches, coaches and the front office.
The only player in the NBA to play all 72 games this season, Jokic spent the fourth quarter in his locker room as his teammates’ comebacks were cut short without him.
“We’ve never been in that position an entire season with Nicola not being out,” Morris said, “MVP! MVP!”
The Sons: Phoenix went 2-0 down just once before Booker’s 3-pointer put the Sons up for good. … Paul shot 14 of 19 off the floor and made all nine of his free throws.
Nuggets: Murray shot one-legged jumpers before the game and hailed one off the halfcourt as he moved.
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